Special Report: Despite deaths, crackdown, Sahara migrant trail thrives

A vendor sells soft drinks to Nigeriens, who are traveling north in the direction of Libya, in Agadez March 17, 2014

(Reuters) – After 92 people died of thirst attempting to cross the Sahara in late September, the government of Niger moved to shut down its decades-old desert migrant routes…

The crackdown initially stemmed the flow of migrants. But the people smugglers have opened up new, more dangerous routes, and begun charging people more than ever to make the journey…

The speed with which the trade has sprung back into life shows how hard it is for nations such as Niger to stop illegal emigrants from leaving. The experience of the past few months in Agadez also highlights the problem of official collusion in the trade.

Click on post title to read more…

Nigerien migrants sit on a Toyota pickup truck as they return from Libya, in Agadez March 14, 2014

Often, the very people meant to police the immigrant routes are involved in the business themselves, say migrants, diplomats and an internal government report seen by Reuters. So far, no one in a senior position has been charged with involvement in the trade…

Although home to some of the continent’s fastest growing economies, West Africa is struggling to generate enough jobs for its mushrooming young population. As a result, migrants from countries as diverse as oil-rich and democratic Ghana to Gambia, a relatively poor police state, are still taking their chances by heading north to Europe, often through Agadez.

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An article in The Economist also discusses this, noting:

“Dismantling the networks of intermediaries, drivers, guides, migrant ‘welcome centres’, and clandestine migration consultants would place the regional economy of Agadez under significant stress,” a diplomat quoted in the report notes. On the other hand, anyone trying to combat trafficking, terrorism, or even the poverty that propels so many migrants on their dangerous journey north, needs to grasp the scale, the resilience and the daily importance of these networks in many people’s lives.

So the EU has choices: (1) stop the influx by sending them back (see: Australia),  (2) status quo (get used to lots dying on the way), or (3) roll out the red carpet and send ships to pick them up directly in North Africa.

Option (3) would also likely involve free transport through the dangerous Sahara.

A new and long report is out, that concludes with a solution that to me seems utterly unrealistic:

More importantly, a concerted effort will need to be made to reduce drivers of insecurity or fragility in home countries. If this growing humanitarian crisis is to be abated, the international community, in partnership with regional organisations, must provide sustainable, alternative livelihoods for vulnerable populations and promote peace, stability and the rule of law in countries and regions where migrants are most vulnerable.

In other words, make their home countries like Europe. LOL. Not going to happen.

The latest statistics:

EU border-management agency Frontex deputy director Gil Arias Fernandez announced on Wednesday that 823% more migrants had arrived in Italy in the first four months of 2014 than in the same period last year.

From January to April 2014, 25,650 migrants arrived in Sicily and 660 in the Puglia and Calabria regions. In the first four months “there was a sharp increase in migrant arrivals, and the number is expected to continue to rise as the summer months draw closer,” Arias said. “We also know that there are numerous migrants on the Libyan coast trying to leave.”

Arias underscored that the “Frontex budget for 2014 is lower than that for 2013. In order to be able to deal with emergencies, during discussion on the 2015 budget in March we requested extra funding to be kept as a reserve fund. The EU Commission rejected the request.”